Bryan Bulaga waited until after Iowa smashed Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl to declare his early departure for the NFL.
"After much deliberation and careful consideration, I have decided to forego my fourth year of college eligibility and enter the upcoming NFL draft," declared the junior offensive lineman.
"This was not an easy decision, since my Iowa experience has been very positive and rewarding. The illness I was faced with at the beginning of the 2009 season made me realize how important football is in my life and how quickly it can be taken away."
The 20-year-old from Crystal Lake, Ill., shocked very few Hawkeye fans with his decision, as it had long been speculated that Bulaga was a first-round NFL draft prospect.
After his dominating Orange Bowl performance, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. now projects Bulaga to be the first Big Ten player taken in this year's draft. Being named 2009 Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year probably helped shape Kiper's opinion, as well.
Bulaga's skills speak volumes.
He is a solid all-around blocking machine with great footwork, perfect for any NFL team looking to bolster their run or pass blocking. While he is stronger against the run than he is against the pass, Bulaga is quick to adapt and thinks well under pressure.
His superior leverage helped him put on a blocking clinic against the Yellow Jackets defensive end Derrick Morgan, a fellow NFL draft prospect.
Almost every 2010 NFL mock draft the Google returns in its search results indicate Bulaga going somewhere in the middle to late first round.
Kiper has him getting drafted No. 20 overall. Pro Football Weekly has him rated as the No. 3 underclassman in the draft and going in the top 20.
So, which NFL teams need help the most from a player like Bulaga?
The San Francisco 49ers could definitely use some help on the offensive line. San Francisco went 8-8 on the year, and have the No. 13 pick in the first round of the draft.
The 49ers offensive line gave up 40 sacks on the year. They ranked No. 27 in total yards, No. 25 in rushing offense, No. 22 in passing offense, and No. 18 in scoring.
And judging by the 49er blogs, the fans in San Francisco would love Bulaga. Now they just need to convince Coach Singletary.
The Green Bay Packers could also use a little help from Bulaga. Green Bay went 11-5 on the year, and have the No. 23 pick in the first round of the draft.
Their No. 1 priority this offseason is finding a great left tackle to help provide more pass protection for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. While the Packers' offensive stats were fairly good this season, age is an issue at both of the tackle positions.
Don't get me wrong, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher still have tread left on the tires. But they are approaching their mid-thirties and Green Bay would be wise to start planning for life without them.
Bulaga turns 21 in March.
Green Bay and San Francisco seem like logical options, but there are several other teams rumored to be interested, too.
Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Seattle and Pittsburgh all ponder the option of drafting Bulaga early. All would be very wise to do so, even if they don't have an immediate need for him.
The NFL draft will kick off in a few months, on Thursday, April 22.
That's when Bulaga will find out which team needs his help the most.
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